I first met Will Watson at a Howard University Basketball game, when my son Oliver was playing on the team. Will would often stop by my studio at that time in Brookland, D.C. I have watched him continue his artistic journey beginning with his arrival on the east coast from Indiana through his completion of his M.F.A. at Maryland Institute of Contempary Art (MICA) up to the present time.
Watson obtained his B.F.A. in Art and Design from Indiana University in 2011; and completed his M.F.A.in Painting “Critical Studies Concentration”; while also earning a Collegiate Teaching Certification from MICA in 2018. During his studies at MICA Watson was an international exchange student, where he experienced this cultural exchange in Italy for three weeks.
Watson’s media is oil. He described his enjoyment of using this media because of the textures that he can achieve; as well as the viscosity of the oil paint. I noticed in viewing his new work in progress in his studio that his figures no longer have features in the faces. He told me that he is painting in this way because he no longer wants the focus of the viewer to be centered on a face. He is now more interested in the attention being placed on what the figure is doing and gestures. I find that to be an interesting concept. It is a decision which will allow the work to be relatable and universal based upon the activity of the figure or the gesture of the figure.
Watson describes himself as a painter and a muralist. He has been consistent in figurative painting since our first meeting and now. Watson disclosed during the interview that his interest lies in simplistic everyday occurrences of African Americans. I have noticed in viewing his work that he frequently paints the figure of an African American male. Watson shared that all his work is centered upon the pain and the joy experienced simultaneously in the lives of African Americans. He stated that although he is currently described as an activist; it is not a description upon which he gave unto himself. The descriptive as an activist manifested because of the composition and figures found within his work.
Two artists came to mind in viewing Watson’s work, John Baldessari and Amedeo Modigliani. Baldessari’s work involved photography; where he would often obscure the face with a colored dot; which he explained that this was because he was tired of looking at peoples faces. Modigliani paintings all except for a minimum few were created without the eyes portraying a gaze. Modigliani was known to have said that he “…would paint the subject’s eyes when he knew their soul…”Watson, Baldessari and Modigliani all engaged in a similar creative act of removing the gaze, but for different intent.
Watson showed us a different series which is in progress. The literal subject of the paintings is basketball. He explained that he is still working on the language aspect of this series. But he also authentically shared that the series is a response to the death of Kobe King. His thinking evolves around the transition of many, many African American heroes. Kobe was one of those heroes to Watson.
Watson is a young African American artist who strives to achieve financial success with his work. He also seeks to obtain more commissions to paint murals. He began painting murals during the pandemic and he has found that he loves painting on this scale. You can view more of his work at www.willwatsonart.com
All Photos are Courtesy of the artist, Will Watson.